critical disability spongebob (really)

This post was inspired by a riveting conversation I had with Claire Houston about a week ago. I first brought up a “critical disability analysis of Spongebob Squarepants” as a joke, but then quickly realized that one of the wildly popular show’s best episodes –– Tea at the Treedome (S1) –– is perhaps the best conveyance of the social model of disability and solutions to access barriers other than “cure” I have ever seen on childrens’ television.

If you’ve forgotten the plot to this iconic episode, I’d like to direct you to Spongepedia for a full description. The part of this episode I am going to focus on is that which occurs while and after Spongebob meets Sandy Cheeks, a squirrel and proud Texan who is fairly new to Bikini Bottom.

Sandy’s air helmet is a conspicuous reminder of the fact that Bikini Bottom exists under water –– something the show as a whole allows us to forget, as all of its characters can live safely below. Sandy, a native to land, not sea, throws into focus the basic condition of Bikini Bottom life, a condition that other characters have no need to acknowledge. To them, living surrounded by water is as normal as breathing air is to mammals. It is only the existence of people who are unable to breathe underwater without assistive tech (like a helmet) that reminds us that our everyday conditions are based on a limited, exclusionary definition of normalcy.

When encountering difference, our beloved sponge behaves better, I would say, than the average able-bodied (so-to-speak) person (also so-to-speak). He immediately understands that the fact that he’s not sure what to make of Sandy’s equipment is on him, not on Sandy. Although it may have been wiser for him to politely ask what “air” was instead of pretending to know what it was in order to impress the squirrel, young viewers of the show receive an important model for interaction with people who are different from oneself. That is, one of polite curiosity and openness to learning as opposed to studied ignorance.

The implicit “temporary” in Spongebob’s able-bodied status reveals itself once he enters the Treedome, Sandy’s air-filled home*. He is only “able” to move through his watery world as a normal, “healthy” individual when surrounded by water –– something he didn’t even notice before realizing Sandy needed to breathe air. As he slowly dries up, he feels an implicit pressure to “suck up” (he’s a sponge, so the pun is a little bit intended) his pain and fake normalcy. In our world and in Spongebob’s capitalism’s insatiable demands for productivity encourage this behavior both inside and outside of the work environment. Spongebob feels he has no other choice than to pretend to be okay –– even if that means suffering irreparable bodily harm, or even risking death –– as he’s never lived under social conditions in which it’s acceptable to admit to being not okay. This is only further suggested by his unflinching devotion to the Krusty Krabs, his place of employment.**

He is only “able” to move through his watery world as a normal, “healthy” individual when surrounded by water –– something he didn’t even notice before realizing Sandy needed to breathe air.

When Spongebob finally decides he can no longer take a moment without water, he drinks the water from a vase of flowers and calls himself a “quitter” for having done so. Like Spongebob, disabled people, especially those who have become disabled, feel compelled to understand themselves as “quitters” or “not trying hard enough.” Spongebob isn’t simply drinking the water because he isn’t trying hard enough to breathe air, though: he physically cannot, and no amount of effort will make him able to breathe oxygen like Sandy, a squirrel, can. Soon after, when Patrick enters the Treedome (thinking that Sandy’s physical differences from himself and Spongebob have scared Spongebob off) he begins to dry up as well: realizing that it was nothing inherent in Sandy that bothered Spongebob, but instead the fact that Spongebob had been rendered disabled by a change in physical environment as well as social environment (insofar as he was too embarrassed to ask Sandy for water and felt like a failure for drinking from her vase).

The resolution of this brief episode is a brilliant message for child and adult viewers alike: instead of Spongebob, Patrick, and Sandy letting their differences stop them from spending time with each other, they work together to develop more assistive devices to accommodate all of them. Sandy brings Spongebob and Patrick water-filled helmets so that they can safely spend time in the Treedome, without judging either of them for not being able to breathe air. Likewise, Sandy’s use of an oxygen helmet outside the Treedome is completely normalized after this episode, to the extent that, as a child and viewer of the show, I was rarely consciously reminded of how “weird” it was for a squirrel to live underwater.

Ultimately, this episode suggests that neither Sandy’s inability to breathe underwater nor Spongebob’s inability to live outside the water without drying up are problems inherent to their respective bodies. They’re simply evidence of the disabling conditions of inaccessible environments. The lesson provided in that short, eleven-minute episode could be applied to understanding dyslexic kids who use audio over the printed word, or hard-of-hearing kids who use transcripts of things other students listen to. By applying the logics of this episode to everyday situations, the opportunity is created to see differences normal, even essential parts of a happy life.

Furthermore, and most importantly, it provides disabled kids a medium through which to understand disability that neither fixates on its negative aspects nor pushes “treatment” as the only solution. If Spongebob and Sandy can solve access barriers without changing their bodies and minds, so too can disabled people as we move through the real world.


*This is a contested term, but useful for my purposes.

**Although outside the scope of this particular post, the way Spongebob’s religious devotion to his job as a fry cook is played for laughs is an example of the subtle and subversive possibilities that exist on children’s TV.

Advertisements

roundup: classes, books, and even an event

Long time no blog. As it’s been longer-than-usual since I’ve written an update, I’m going to go right into a roundup. The fall is here; I’ve actually shivered several times in the last few days; school is finally becoming as rhythmic as sleeping or breathing, and fall break is (I know!) less than two weeks away.

Although I’m excited to return home for a few days (mostly for the easy access to free food and coffee, as well as the opportunity to do several loads of free laundry) I’m also buzzing with excitement at my thesis/CST focus plans. More on that later, I think, once I iron out more details and increase my confidence in the subject; today’s particular bout of excitement stems from my beginning the book “Black on Both Sides” by C. Riley Snorton. A professor whom I hope will help advise me in my thesis process highly recommended it to me, and now that I’ve recently finished an “academic-style” book, space has opened up in my brain and bookshelf to begin this one. I’m particularly taken with the idea of “double-transness,” or the idea of being TGNC while also embodying a critique of the cis vs. trans “binary” (or the hegemonic idea of proper transition/transness). Have you ever met a term that, when you see or hear it, it fills you up like a pot of soup? That’s how it felt for me, sitting in the dining hall last night. Like steam was coming out of my head, in a good way. It could also have been the vegan split pea soup I had, one of my favorite staples of Superblanch cuisine. I think it was the term, though, that really satisfied me that night.

As for other classes: I adore Political Ecology. I do. It’s nice to be in a class where I have the background knowledge; the advantage: it’s nice to see a class of predominantly STEM majors learning that the humanities and social sciences can be challenging and out of one’s depth. Too often I see a dismissal of the complexity of “soft” (read: feminized) disciplines among physics, chemistry, mathematics, etc. students. At a place like Mount Holyoke, which caters specifically to the needs of students of marginalized genders, we should really know better –– but the misogynistic attitudes that privilege STEM over other fields is everywhere. That’s my roundabout way of saying that understanding Marx and Hegel, and seeing that people with other specialties have something to learn feels really damn good. Especially after an entire childhood of feeling stupid and inferior to others because math has been difficult for me.

Onto Chinese: I think this image really sums up my recent experiences with the course!

Screen Shot 2018-09-24 at 10.16.51 PM.png

“always pourin one out for the int’l students and other english language learners but especially tonight….just finished a dinky little 2-page paper for my chinese 300 class and it was fucking exhausting (and it wasn’t even complex!). but you all are out here writing 20 pg papers in your second, third, fourth, etc. language. that’s fucking brilliant and i see you.”

Truly, I’m so grateful to be taking Chinese as I’m also working and learning as a SAW mentor. I’ll probably never know what it’s like to be so heavily immersed in and required to meet certain expectations of my second language, both because I’ve never done a language immersion study abroad program, and because of u.s. imperialism and the global domination of English.

As I finish up this blog post, I’m sitting in Superblanch after having taken my skip day for a Walking for Fitness session because of the torrential rain. I hope to update this blog after the Northampton Print & Book Fair, happening this Sunday, which I’m extremely excited to attend. Last year was my first time going, and even though I was alone and had no idea what to expect, I had a wonderful time and picked up, among other things, a copy of jubilat, a screen-printed t-shirt, and a patch that now adorns one of my jackets. This year I anticipate to go with friends and now know enough to be more excited for the event –– perhaps even eyeing it as a possible space to distribute zines of my own one day!

the first couple days

Hi all, this is my very first blog post from South Hadley and I am thrilled to be back. I’ve had numerous people ask me, “wouldn’t you rather be in Amsterdam?” Although when I listened to a podcast the other day on which a Dutch person was speaking, I felt a little empty ache where Amsterdam used to be in me (or I in it), I’m happier here than I was there. No shade to Amsterdam; I just prefer routine.

I moved back in on Saturday, 9/01, a day before most of the returning students at MHC, and I’m always extremely grateful for my early move-in accommodation with AccessAbility (AAS). I’m also happy to continue my tradition of speaking openly about being registered with AAS. Perhaps it does nothing, but I’d like to think it’s a reminder to all the ~normal~ people on campus that, surprise! The Disabled Are Just Like You!  Not to mention that it’s a reminder to the other registered students that there are tons of us registered, and that it’s nothing to hide.

On Sunday, while everyone else moved in, I spent an enjoyable morning at Thirsty Mind, the coffeeshop* across the street. So far, I’m feeling pretty good about meeting all my obligations this month, despite the ridiculous busyness of these next two weeks. Part of this, I think, has to do with my decision not to pursue registration in a course I originally wanted to get into: Critical Psychology. It seems perfectly suited to me, and it’s at another college in the consortium of which Mount Holyoke is a part. If I had gotten in already, I’m positive I’d keep the class, but it was full by the time I tried to register. Back then I was convinced I would do what I’ve done for several other classes: email the professor and act intelligent and put-together (which I did) and then come to the class looking extremely eager, ultimately stealing the spot of a less-eager counterpart (which I’m not doing).

I had reservations about Critical Psychology from the start, even when I was sure I wanted to be in it. The varieties of people one might find in a class like this can include Thomas Szasz-types and orthodox psych-majors who hope this class will be another place for them to study the fascinating crazies or talk authoritatively about biochemistry concepts they’ve never actually learned. I also trust very few professors to teach a class like this with fairness, compassion, and respect –– let alone a professor whose reputation I didn’t know.

Why, then, would I take a class whose material I, between lived experience and independent study, likely already know; when taking it necessitates more energy than the class’s substance likely deserves? I had no answer to this, four other classes, and several jobs. So, no Critical Psychology.

I’m extremely excited about my other classes, though. I’m taking third year Chinese this year, after initially signing up for it as a first-year, when I was woefully behind in the character-writing part of my study of Chinese. I feel a sense of pride now that I’ve dug up the textbooks I bought two years ago and cried over, now no longer insurmountable.

I am taking Political Ecology this semester, too. I spoke with a friend briefly about this; I assumed that it would be an anarchist-leaning class because of the relationship between the eco/philosophical concept of the rhizome and the spontaneous revolutionary acts that feature so heavily in some anarchist strands. My friend told me, though, that the professor of this course actually had more of a Marxist bent, so I’m hopeful that I’ll get to learn a Marxian perspective on political ecology that might help me develop my own argument and opinions for anarchism. Maybe I’ll even incorporate some of his beliefs into my own politics. I’m excited that I don’t know things. I’m excited to learn. I’m even excited to be corrected and “proven wrong.”

I’m also taking a course on Narrative Medicine, the first session of which is this evening. I’m not entirely sure what I’m getting into with this class, but it looks very promising. On a similar note, the other class that I’m taking this semester is creative writing –– like this past summer, it looks like my fall semester is going to be creative writing-heavy. Despite the amount of “creative writing” I do, I’ve never actually taken a formal class on it. Recently I’ve been craving outside perspectives on my work, and have been trying to become more comfortable with showing my work to others before it’s been published –– that is, approved by some outside “authority”. I liken this to the stress others feel about disclosing disability (or transness!) without “formal diagnosis”.

I return to the middle of this blog post after a day, as my writing time was abruptly cut short by the fact that I realized I lost my lanyard and needed to go on a wild, sweaty search for it. The search was relatively brief, because some kind stranger left it for me at the info desk in Blanchard. Later, a friend drove me to pick up my course pack and to drop me off for what I thought was my first session of Narrative Medicine: but as it turned out, I had misread the schedule. My seminar was actually only on Thursdays, not Tuesdays too: I was heartbroken when I found that out, not because I desperately wanted the class that day but because it felt like one more thing that had gone wrong on a warm and exhausting day.

I took the bus back to Mount Holyoke as the sky darkened and the air cooled, willing myself to cry as I listened to Against Me! (as I always do when I’m upset). I had dinner with my co-editor for the Mount Holyoke News, Kate, and together we went to see Christina Henriquez discuss her novel “The Book of Unknown Americans.” Between dinner and the talk, and some unexpected positivity from my friends (who always seem to know what I need, even when they had no idea at the time that I was in a bad mood!) my evening improved beyond what I could have imagined.

That leaves me here today, Wednesday, my first actual day of classes. On my agenda is not only classwork and my work-study jobs, but also my “What’s Your Story?” zine (the proof of which I finished this morning!) my wrap-up work with my internship at Not Dead Yet, and my personal creative writing pursuits, which I really hope won’t fall by the wayside as the year carries on. I think I have a good chance of continuing to work on those projects, especially because I’m taking creative writing this semester.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll continue to follow along with my posts –– and that I’ll have the wherewithal to keep posting in the first place –– now that I’m back at MHC!


*Actual coffeeshop, not the Amsterdam kind.

A white & brown hobbit house, in front of which a woman washes and hangs linens to dry. Trees surround it all.

et tu, cottagecore?

Recently, you’ve probably noticed cottagecore-related content, especially on Tumblr. As someone who already has a deep devotion to farm animals (especially sheep), mushrooms, and cabin-homes stuffed with knickknacks, the cottagecore aesthetic was and is one I gravitate toward. It’s easy to scroll mindlessly through blog after gentle, peaceful blog; reblogging jars of honey and golden sunlight and teddy bears and picnic baskets; right alongside assorted farm animals and wide, vast vegetable gardens. It’s impossible for me not to project myself onto their hazy, golden façades (literally!) and feel, for a moment, like that picture is my life. Unfortunately, I recently met with the reality undepicted in those images, and had to confront the practicality of my dreams, the genuineness of my desires.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 4.50.20 PM

In the background, a blurry pastoral scene of grass, flowers, and weeds as well as a wire fence sit in the afternoon light. In the foreground, a sticky pot of honey is ladled, so as to keep some honey suspended in the air to reflect the sun’s light.

I’m already a person prone to planning for a future that could only exist several decades from now. Ever since I was a child, I knew I wanted children of my own, and spent much of my childhood paging through thousand-page baby name books, making lists that I was sure would turn to children. Soon, plans for my perfect home emerged, too: usually a tiny house on the beach or in the woods or in a field whose endpoints can’t be seen from my someday-home’s window. It was always a pastoral scene that never seemed to get so far as to ask, “how do I get my groceries?” I suppose I’d grow all of those, though I think veggie burgers and chewing gum would be difficult to grow on trees.

Aside from the limits of my hypothetical trees, there are numerous other flaws in my dreamy future plans. As someone whose hypersensitivity to noise and need for personal space gains them access to a single room in college, thanks to AccessAbility Services, I sincerely doubt I’d do well living with a wife and kids in a sub-1,000 sq. ft. space in the middle of nowhere. Just a hunch.

In addition, my dream almost always includes me helping to design and supervise the construction of my tiny home. Where will I get the money for this? On whose wide stretch of land will I be allowed to plant my home? These questions, too, remain unanswered. As someone in a relationship, and as a Capricorn Moon & Venus, thinking about and sharing my dreams for a future with the one I love feels like the ultimate sign of devotion. It’s not so much the content of the dream, it’s the idea that there is one. But ever since the beginning of this month, I’ve been wondering just how much real, practical thinking is required for the dreams I want (or do I?) to bear fruit, and how aesthetics seem to be altogether hijacking my dreams.

Of the many things I was excited to do with my partner, Kayla, I was perhaps most excited to visit a farm with them. The farm represented an aspect of our theoretical future that we loved and love to discuss: oh, the animals we’d care for! The love we’d have for them! The endless space in which they could run and play! The mass numbers of Instagram accounts catering so specifically to my dreams of animal-parenthood only furthered this desire. The reason I follow so many (almost 600) accounts on Instagram is that many of them are about certain animals and farms I’d like to keep up with. There’s nothing I love more than watching their latest videos with whomever will agree to watch them with me. I had never been to one of these sorts of farms in real life, and I have to say, I was ready for a relaxing time.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 4.48.00 PM

A moodboard. (R-L, top to bottom:) houses with high-peaked roofs amongst high grass and shrubs, a forest ends in a hole opening into a blue-skyed clearing, chickens stride about on a house’s front lawn, a golden-brown pie sits on a wood block, a close-up of a bucket of red & green apples, a photo of a basket of fresh eggs, a dimly-lit bedroom featuring fairy lights and a skylight in its dormer ceiling, a better-lit loftlike bedroom featuring a bed with white sheets and a window revealing trees in the distance, another, this time large, bedroom whose bed faces a tall and wide window embedded into a dormer ceiling.

Farms –– I’m sure you never could have guessed this –– are, in fact, dirty! As in, there is a lot of dirt, and animal poop that is easily mistaken for dirt, all over the place. There are bugs, too; especially flies in the vicinity of the aforementioned poop. It didn’t fully register with me why Kayla and their mom were slathering themselves in bug spray before walking into the covered structure in which some bunnies and (separately) some small pigs lived. If you were to tell me, “There are bugs here,” I would have replied, “Of course there are!” But it isn’t until a several land on your legs as you attempt to replicate a pristine, loving Instagram video with your new pig friends that you fully accept it.

This situation was unsettling enough in the face of my romanticization of farm life, due both to my consumption of Instagram videos and from my love of cottagecore aesthetics. But it got worse: when we went to visit the goats (who were extremely pleased to see us!) we had the opportunity to spend time with them in their pen. We did. Goats, much like dogs, will get up on their hind legs and put their two fore legs on your thighs, hoping for pets and scratches. In their excitement, these goats managed to spread their poop not only into the ridges on the bottom of my Birkenstocks (and dangerously close to the synthetic straps) but also onto my thighs and the groin-area of my shorts. For all my excessive talk of wanting a farm, I booked it out of the pen after that, standing uncomfortably outside as Kayla and their mother continued to spend time with the goats, significantly less disturbed than I was. When they were done, we visited some kittens and cows. All that time, I was praying,  please let me transfer my consciousness out of this soiled body and into something cleaner. I can’t say I even really enjoyed the rest of the visit, as I was so distracted by the mess.

When it finally came time to clean ourselves off in the farm’s bathroom before driving back to their home for full showers, Kayla let me go in first* and I doused the entire lower half of my body in a mixture of soap, water, and hand sanitizer, all rubbed into my skin and clothing by a massive wad of paper towels. When we got back to their house, we had a delightful time hosing down our respective shoes. Then, finally, it was time for me to shower (first**).

And then I was clean. And mildly disturbed, because it didn’t simply feel like shit had gotten my my legs and shorts. It felt like it had gotten all over my “future,” simply by shoving its reality into my face. It has forced me to (re)consider whether or not I actually desire other things, like a garden (hard, hot work with unguaranteed results) or a tiny house (a truly limiting amount of space that would be more likely to drive me to a divorce than anything else). There has been much written on the potential harm that life lived through a camera lens or an Instagram account can be, especially now that people are using these as reasons to alter their physical forms. But significantly less has been said about the way that popular aesthetics have taken and run with our future plans, leading only to disappointment when we come up empty, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

…[S]ignificantly less has been said about the way that popular aesthetics have taken and run with our future plans, leading only to disappointment when we come up empty, frustrated, and unsatisfied.

A lot of people, especially fellow lesbians, have bought into the ideal-farm-future wholesale. It’s especially tempting because it offers an alternative to a society that is usually either hateful toward you or pretends you don’t exist. Perhaps also to help something or someone grow in ways we have been denied; to nurture other living things in the ways we wish we were nurtured. This is especially true, it seems, for lesbians who don’t want children –– but these dreams tempt us all.

I think I really had myself convinced that this was what I had always wanted, when in reality, what I wanted was the pristine version I had set out in my head. Visiting the farm animals with Kayla, I had assumed, would be a peak into my future: a partner; a farm; a sense of freedom derived from both. But as I stood, panicked in the bathroom, goat shit on my bare legs from eager goat feet, I realized that if this was living my future, I didn’t want it.

It’s impossible to tell the difference between a “real” dream (one that came “only” from inside one’s head) from a dream installed there by some outside source –– namely, because almost everything is a combination of those two. But it’s important to acknowledge outside and personal implications for those dreams, if realized, and to allow oneself to enjoy an ideal but know the reality is not for them. I’m still learning this.


*However lucky you think I am to have Kayla in my life, multiply that by a factor of ten.

**See above.

Recommended Reading: Beard hacks, finasteride hell, and 5 other things ‘trans masc’ folks might not know about.

This is an awesome perspective w/r/t doing transmasculinity. People don’t talk nearly enough about the physical challenges of top surgery, and instead focus on the pain and dysphoria of the “before” and the peace and ease of the “after”.

In conjunction with this, Finch does a great job of outlining the multiplicity of dysphoric experiences we may have as a way of rebutting truscum gender/diagnostic essentialisms. There is no pure, “prior” experience of dysphoria against which all other trans peoples’ feelings should be measured…instead, start thinking of dysphoria as a way to put words to your understanding of your body in the world as a tgnc person. There’s no “true trans” or “fake trans”, there’s just each one of us, and the limited language with which we need to (unfortunately) justify our lived experiences.

Let's Queer Things Up!

Every so often — especially in transitioning — I’ll have one of those “why didn’t someone tell me this sooner?” moments. Because we’re in the age of information, I think a lot of folks in the transgender community just assume we already have the information we need.

But in actuality? Many of us don’t.

I’ve found that when I share some of what’s surprised me, there’s always a decent number of trans people who are also hearing it for the first time. While transition is a process of discovery, I can’t help but feel that life would be a hell of a lot easier if we did a better job of sharing what we’ve learned with others.

This article, then, is a mishmash of some of the clever, enlightening, or flat-out surprising things that I would’ve appreciated being told at the beginning of my transition.

As someone who is genderqueer…

View original post 2,635 more words

Sarah, wearing shorts and a t-shirt, stands bent over in the lower right of the frame. Sarah is also wearing a purse and a baseball cap. They pet a sheep in its open stall with one hand.

in a shocking display of productivity

This is a post in two distinct and pretty disingenuous parts. I had a flash of writing-desire on Thursday when I made myself as busy as humanly possible for most of the day, and another flash tonight, the night I publish these two halves. I’m calling this a roundup in the hopes that that will explain/excuse that the halves of this post have nothing to do with each other.

Part I: Thursday.

Anxiety woke me this morning at 6:30, and this anxiety I wouldn’t trade for the world! I recently visited and stayed with my dear partner, Kayla. Of all of those days, Wednesday was the only one in which I got out of bed and dressed before 11:00. All else was put on hold and I’m glad I could focus on my time with them and their family. Prior to that, I had been bearing down hard on my personal writing and the thankless lit. mag submission process, as well as tasks relating to my internship. As the days went by, and especially while at Kayla’s, a thought lingered in my head: Are you spending enough time on Chinese?

I stopped going to Chinese language tutoring last month and I’m glad I stopped, I felt and still feel comfortable self-studying for two months before going back in the fall. But without weekly appointments in which I had to review the past lesson’s homework, Chinese somewhat fell by the wayside as I put my energies into writing and internship work. This morning, that realization kind of fell on my head: I woke up after less than five hours of sleep by an alarm bell screeching “STUDY!” in my head. I briefly tried to bargain with it; it was 6:30 in the summer, after all; but I came to the conclusion I always come to with these things: the best solution to something acutely anxiety-provoking is just to do it.

So I did it. I got up, I made coffee, I reviewed my character writing and vocabulary, I listened/watched a Chinese drama while I made a new Quizlet study set. I was feeling so good after doing this for a couple hours that I hung up clothes in my closet, photographed items to sell on Depop, and did a couple hours of work for my internship –– all before noon! As I write the first draft of this blog post, it’s 2:09 pm, and I’m feeling good; not nearly as tired as I was expecting, and I still have many hours left in the day before I usually go to bed.

What else did I do today? I listened to a LibriVox recording (and LibriVox is very cool, by the way: it has a selection of public-domain books read aloud by volunteers, and available to stream or download. This obviously isn’t sponsored; I really doubt LibriVox has that kind of money, nor I that kind of internet presence) of Mr. Spaceship by Phillip K. Dick. PKD is best known for “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” (or, as a movie, “Blade Runner”). Although the term “cyborg” wasn’t coined until 1960, he more or less turned an old man –– presumably also disabled –– into a cyborg, by combining its intelligence with the “body” of a spaceship. This spaceship later comes to represent the collective “body” of not only humanity but all living things, and I think it’s a wonderful meditation on the discursive possibilities available for disabled/hybrid/chimeric bodies as we talk about the future of…everything we know, love, and hope for. It really turns that whole idea of “disability as antithetical to futurity”* on its head. I mean, what’s more futuristic than making your body a spaceship?

Part II: Saturday.

I was so, so energized on Thursday, and as I mentioned then, it’s those times when I feel at my best and at my most confident. Since then, things have gone back to normal, and I’ve been sleeping in (and sleeping much better, now that I’ve returned to a study/work schedule). I don’t think I’m cut out for vacations as such, but that’s another thought to wring my hands over in a different post.

In addition to continuing all the aforementioned activities for the next month before school starts, I’m contending with two relatively-significant changes in my life: one recent and chosen; the other a bit older and unchosen. First, the chosen change: I made a new group for “What’s Your Story?” (WYS) that is open for all (not just Mount Holyoke students) to join. I think I’ve been putting off doing this because it’s a terrifying reminder that I only have two years left until I graduate from Mount Holyoke. Although the future of my studies looks exciting, Mount Holyoke is the first community in which I’ve felt the degree of security that I do. I don’t think WYS would have been the same had it started anywhere else, with anyone else; because of this, I’m feeling all of these anxieties around the character of the group/event changing once it’s open to more people.

Although this is the only logical way to move forward with WYS (assuming I don’t want to abandon it come 2020, which I don’t think I will) I’m feeling this sense of nostalgia; this urge to cling to “the good old days” of WYS that are actually still happening. Nostalgic feelings are strange like that: the real pleasure (?) that comes from them isn’t in the actual thing you miss, it’s the way you dress up the thing you miss until missing it feels good on its own. WYS has always been a healthy combination of stressful and rewarding for me, and there is no reason for me to think that it will be any different once a new set of voices are ready to be featured in it. As more and more of the initial members graduate, I’m already wading into the new WYS talent pool, and it clearly hasn’t disappointed.

On a technical level, Facebook doesn’t make it easy to change a group. I couldn’t figure out if or how I could make the original WYS a group that was “outside Mount Holyoke,” so I had to start a new group from scratch. Fresh starts are great and even necessary at this point, especially as I have a better knowledge of how to make the group as accessible and as smooth as possible now than I did when this was new to me. As for the zine I’m editing, I’m still soliciting submissions, but I’m also planning to host discussion/creative meetings early this fall as ways for people to brainstorm responses to my prompt on disability and spacetime. We can be so much more generative when we’re together, plus, WYS group meetings are always a highlight of my semester.

Speaking of being generative together, there is the unchosen change. I’m going to have to switch therapists, as mine has taken a new job. My next session with her will be my last. I have never felt attached to a therapist before, and it is very much a privilege (although it shouldn’t be) that my current one is good enough to warrant that kind of attachment from me. She’s been with me through a lot, and has turned from a mere tool to get me access to transition, to a resource and semi-mentor for me in several parts of my life. I know that my experiences with her, especially as I’m a lesbian and trans person as well as psychosocially disabled, are rare. I have received nothing but support and respect from her. I fear that she is as much of a unicorn in her field as the most cynical part of my brain says she is –– and with the state of psychiatry as it is, even the “rational”  part of my brain has no reason to be optimistic.

Given the progress I have made in critical metacognition around my life, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the amazing steps I have taken in my transition, I am so glad this person has been part of my life, even though she’s moving onto something new now. No matter what happens with the next therapist –– as with the next iteration(s) of WYS –– I’m always going to have the amazing things I’ve learned already and the things I can remember forever. In the meantime, I have plenty to keep me busy until I move back to Mount Holyoke on September 1st. And once the semester begins, I’ll have significantly less time to make blog posts in which I wallow in my nostalgic confusion and fear of change (although I will still refuse to get up at 6:30).


* Read more on this in Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer.

a word of recommendation: cringy old tunes

Every now and then, when I’m cruising through Spotify, I spot a song that takes me back. It’ll be totally unexpected; I may not have ever remembered liking this or that song independent of Spotify’s prompting. It will likely make me cringe, especially because throughout my life I have been convinced of the superiority of my own music taste. Yet the impetus to make a childhood music playlist grew with each nostalgic encounter. Finally, the urge proved too much to sit with. So, this month, I made it.

It is by no means a complete (play)list. In fact, the more music I’ve added, the more the inevitably-missing songs frustrate me. Nonetheless, I currently have 503 songs saved on a playlist named “sarah cavar childhood hits” (no caps, we’re keeping it casual). The rules regarding which songs I could add to this list are relatively simple. One, the songs in question had to have been listened to at or before age thirteen. I designate my graduation from eighth grade and beginning of high school as the arbitrary upper limit of my childhood for these purposes. Two, the songs could not simply be from a childhood artist that I liked, but rather, they must be individual songs I can remember listening to.

I have this playlist on shuffle right now and I’m going to write about whichever five songs that pop up as I’m writing this post. I leave behind “Layers” by Asobi Seksu, which provided background to my introduction. Incidentally, this group was the one that introduced me to “shoegaze” as a genre. It is also a group that scandalized my young ears when I learned its name meant “play sex” in Japanese.  Their music is as dreamy as one might hope play sex to be.

1. Onto the childhood song-shuffle. I’m now listening now to “Hero / Heroine” by Boys Like Girls. This is one of those whiny sad boy songs I rarely let myself listen to both back then and today. I didn’t yet understand the mass appeal of whiny sad boy songs, all I knew was that the particular tone of this song made me unbearably melancholic. I listened to this song on the way to my grandmother’s house lived. I stared out the window sadly, as one does in these situations. I finished the song as I am currently doing. I found myself caught up in whatever deeply emotional memories, even nostalgia, I may have had a decade ago. My stomach had dropped into sadness and wouldn’t rise. Sad boy songs suck. It should be noted that, as I finish working on this blog post almost twelve hours after beginning it, this song is still stuck in my head and continues to make the backs of my eyes feel like I’m about to cry. Well done, Boys Like Girls!

2. The song ended and “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel began. I still remember most of the lyrics/historical events from this song –– I had them all memorized years ago, back before I knew what half of them meant. When Joel sings about “children of thalidomide,” I’m reminded of a particular event in fourth grade I’m still unsure of how to look at from a disability studies perspective. Ah yes, “children of thalidomide.” He just sang that as I wrote the other sentence. Anyway, I was in art class in fourth grade and (as was popular in 2009?) watching several boys in the class tuck most of their arms into their short-sleeved shirts and wave their hands around, pretending as though their arms didn’t exist. Our then-teacher scolded them harshly for making fun of children of thalidomide by stuffing their arms into their shirtsleeves. I was proud to have context for what she said. Most of my peers were confused. Had I known the infamous term “special snowflake” back then, I surely would have called her one. Present me cringes at the memory. My problematic self took home a set of her scented markers that year.

3. A middle school song is on now. “Everest” by Ra Ra Riot. I discovered Ra Ra Riot while sitting on a pink beanbag with my iPod touch, hungrily scouring iTunes for good music on which I could spend a new gift card. I was smugly satisfied that I had discovered such indie bands such as Arcade Fire, of whom I was convinced no one else had ever heard. I was devastated when “The Suburbs” received critical acclaim, convinced that my beloved “indie band” had lost all its rarity and thus all its value. Ra Ra Riot was a recommended band beneath the option to purchase an Arcade Fire album on iTunes. It had received significantly less notice; fewer reviews. Well done, Sarah! I thought to myself. One of your indie bands may have been discovered, but there will always be another for you to dig up and hoard for yourself!

4. I’m listening to “Chocolate Chips” by Zoe Boekbinder now. I discovered the Boekbinder sisters via their act Vermillion Lies. I downloaded several of their albums from Bandcamp. I was very confused as to why people liked these quirky woman singer-songwriters who half sang/half spoke along with some strange instruments which likely weren’t instruments at all. This confusion grew as I discovered both CocoRosie and Regina Spektor, both of whom I shunted into this (admittedly too-broad) category. When I was trying to add music by the Boekbinder sisters to this playlist, I was struck by 1) how little of their work had made its way from Bandcamp to Spotify and 2) how deeply I now adored their music. I’ve been listening to the Boekbinders as often, now, as I listen to their half-siblings: Tune-Yards, Superorganism, etc. If anything, to me, this quirky girl music is antithetical to the sad boy music I bemoaned in item (1). It constantly makes you wonder, “Is this music? Is she just banging pots and pans together and speak-singing along with the sound? Either way, why do I like it so much?” I just do.

5. Lastly, the song “Noise” by Tokio Hotel comes on. I had a next-door neighbor I’ll call V. V introduced me to all kinds of things; among them were Invader Zim, Tokio Hotel, and the idea of “bandom” in general. She had a cardboard cut-out of Robert Pattinson in the corner of her room. Robert stood watch as we listened to the Hot Topic hits she had downloaded on LimeWire (RIP) and I forced myself to like them. Tokio Hotel’s music often strayed into sad boy territory, but this was one of the few songs that didn’t make me feel like I was melting on the inside. “Noise” was my go-to favorite Tokio Hotel song, the one I’d bring up when making conversation with V’s friends as I stared longingly at their scene apparel and prayed for the wherewithal to someday enter my mall’s Hot Topic all by myself.

Music has an uncanny way of possessing us; at least, possessing our memories. From this Spotify adventure I find myself learning, if nothing else, that the songs from my childhood I consider to be “cringey” weren’t so in and of themselves, but rather became that way through the memories and experiences I associate with them. Each time I turn on my playlist (and a “private” listening session) I’m struck by the way the public presence of these songs, charged with memory, force me to relive what I might prefer to keep hidden.

As I conclude this piece, “Kingdom Come” by The Civil Wars comes on. It’s a good song, from the first movie in The Hunger Games series. I (age thirteen) went to the premiere with my friends. I wore a black pinstriped fedora with a white ribbon, and my prescription glasses were thick-rimmed and tortoiseshell (“geek chic”?). Although I have destroyed all photographic evidence of that time, the song remains and forces me to encounter its redeeming qualities; perhaps even the redeeming qualities of my cringey, young self (though I’m still not sure there are any).